Field Experiments – A design research trip to Indonesia

Published:  May 27, 2013
Field Experiments – A design research trip to Indonesia

After first meeting while working with Stefan Sagmeister during his year long sabbatical in Sayan, Indonesia in 2009, Paul Marcus Fuog (Australia), Benjamin Harrison Bryant (USA),and Karim Zariffa (Canada) are conducting an experimental design project in Ubud, Indonesia from June – August 2013. Reconnecting with how things are made, the designers are withdrawing from the industrial system and embedding themselves in an active community of makers, working in partnership with highly skilled Balinese craftspeople to create a new collection of cultural artefacts.

The project, titled Field Experiments, is the culmination of four years of research – collectively Bryant, Fuog and Zariffa have spent two years in Ubud since 2009 building relationships with local craftspeople, observing and participating in Balinese culture and creating propositional work.

Bali is a lively microcosm of art and craft. Individual villages specialize in traditional practices; Ubud is know for painting, Mas for wood carving, Batubulan for stone carving, Tophati for Batik, Tenganan for weaving, Pejatan for terracotta pottery and Celuk for metal working. Despite the geographical proximity of the villages, these craft disciplines rarely overlap. Communities work separately and objects are made from a single material. Traditionally, Balinese craft skills were used to make objects of need – common items for everyday or religious use – rather than objects of desire. Now, with a reported 2.88 million foreign tourists visiting the island each year, Balinese handicrafts are increasingly dedicated to the production of western oriented souvenirs. Row upon row of seemingly factory-made replicas fill village streets and this repetitive collection of craft objects does little to showcase the idiosyncratic hand skills of Balinese craftspeople, demeaning tradition and technique.

A local craft product observed on the Field Experiments blog.

Meanwhile, while working in their own urban centres, Bryant, Fuog and Zariffa acknowledge that they are often disconnected from the makers of their work. As the design process becomes more automated it has become increasing difficult to ‘play’ during the making stage. Appreciating the connection between experimental making and learning, they recognise the importance of ‘shaking things up’ with gains to be made by exploring new ways of working, new models for collaboration and new environments for creating.

Responding to these factors, Bryant, Fuog and Zariffa in close partnership with traditional stone and wood carvers, weavers, metal workers and ceramicists are reworking everyday Balinese items and common souvenirs to create a contemporary collection of experimental objects. Work under development includes baskets, vessels, weavings, metal ornaments, tools, wall hangings, tools, sculptures, toys, instruments, textiles and traditional dress. The design process celebrates the hand and nature. Organic materials and traditional methods of production are being brought together in inventive ways and knowledge is being built, exchanged and implemented around the use of sustainable materials. Crafts with a rich cultural tradition are being taught and learned.

Local tools observed on the Field Experiments blog.

Through the energetic exchange of skills and ideas and the combination of contemporary design thinking with traditional craft techniques the project aims to create a new east-west design culture. Encouraging new thinking though making the project is set to deepen and extend the practice of all participants. The collaboration provides the designers new inroads to learning by gaining a greater understanding of how things are made and how natural materials work and the Balinese craftspeople are given the opportunity to conceptually apply their traditional skills and innovate with new forms that are culturally significant to them. The project also facilitates inter-craft collaboration to develop new networks of connected makers throughout the island. At the culmination of the studio the work will be exhibited in Indonesia, America, Australia and Canada and a carefully produced journal will present the findings to broader audiences.

The collective ambition is to foster a new craft pride within Balinese communities and create a new appreciation and new economy for their crafts extending well beyond the duration of the Field Experiments project.

Keep up to date with the project here.

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